An article I came across by John Pavlovitz - 'Sinead O’Connor is Telling Us Mental Illness is Killing Her. Do We Give a Damn?' - regarding the singer's recent post from a New Jersey hotel room, was almost as heart-breaking as the video it discussed.
And also, bang on the money. It's well worth a read.
Pavlovitz is right. For some almost bizarre reason, we'll celebrate and mourn people who've taken their lives - talk about the tragedy, the terrible things that sent them down that particular path, all the beautiful things about them, what should have been done etc. But only if they do actually kill themselves.
By comparison, people who are on their way to that point, eg: people in pain, people on the edge, people whose lives and careers have unravelled, people desperately crying out in whatever way they can for someone to help them - we don't want to know. Those people are shunned and avoided. It's just too much effort. Too 'uncomfortable'.
They are shunned, in essence, simply for being a little bit stronger than those who gave in. They're trying to hold on. They desperately want to find positive things to live for, they have not given up hope that this world could be a better place for both themselves, and others. They don't want to give in, and on some level, actively want to feel alive again. The finality of death is so very absolute; there's no coming back from that, and they know it.
Yet the sad truth is, that added tenacity generally puts them in the 'freak' category, as opposed to the 'tragic'.
It's as if they're dismissed for 'Crying Wolf'.
Sinead O'Connor is such a person. I positively guarantee most people will be speaking of her recent antics very differently to the way people currently speak of Chester Bennington and Chris Cornell, for instance. And what Pavlovitz's article points out so poignantly, is it seems no-one will care or try to help her until it's too f**king late.
That is when people will start saying nice things, trying to look like compassionate human beings. All the radio stations will play Nothing Compares To You on repeat. And frankly, it will mean nothing. Try showing love to those in pain while they're still alive.
The Stigma of Mental 'Illness'
I think part of the problem and stigma, for some any way, is being depressed and suffering from anxiety do not feel like an 'illness'. The classification of 'mental illness' suggests on some level, you're mad and/or some kind of babbling loon. (Which is ironic, as many studies claim greater levels of intelligence leave an individual more susceptible to depression.)
Depression and anxiety are not often 'spontaneous' like an illness. Some people admittedly do simply have propensity for greater sadness inside them, but it's not always that there's 'something wrong' with them. Sometimes depression and anxiety are a very natural reaction to a world that, let's face it, is all too often a horrible piece of sh*t.
Harsh realities, disappointment, tragedy and bereavement, unpleasant life experiences, frustration, loneliness, injustice - they forge who a person is. Some are able to rise above these detracting factors, others are not. But really, in a sense, they are the cause - not 'deficiency' in a victim's brain. The equivalent would be beating an animal repeatedly with a stick, then saying there must be 'something wrong with it' because it can no longer walk. No... it's because the creature was beaten within an inch of its life, to the point it could no longer function in a normal capacity. That's not 'illness'.
I suppose you could argue it's just terminology, and that even in the analogy I just gave, the beating of the animal physically 'made it ill'. But it doesn't feel the same. It doesn't feel fair, or acknowledging of causation. And I do genuinely think that's part of the stigma. Some people are fragile because they got repeatedly bashed, not simply because they're 'ill', or somehow started out weak.
Why So Prevalent in The Arts?
It's a fair question.
I've always happened to believe that yes - you do need a screw loose somewhere to be a performer. In a sense, you have to be slightly 'mental' and/or pretty needy to want to make a career out of saying "please look at me, please love me and think I'm wonderful". That counts for all of us in the business, myself included.
Then within that group, you get a spectrum. At one end you have the egotistical types, who genuinely think they are amazing, and everyone should rejoice in their presence - performing is a way to enhance their social status as much as anything else. And at the other, those who aren't so sure. Those who have major insecurities/personal problems etc, but performing is something they're called to regardless. More 'neurotic' than 'egotistical', applause is the only love they know. They are the ones at risk. Because naturally, the first type are more geared to succeed in an odious business that literally runs on egotism, especially if they are actually talented. Whereas type-twos don't fit in so well. The business tends to stamp on them, as do the ego-maniacs who think they're so much better than the 'social lepers'.
So basically, you've potentially got already damaged/insecure people being exposed to egotistical and often very bitchy cliques, in an absolute cut-throat business where the very ability to work and do what you love is usually entirely dependent on getting on with those same cliques. (And kissing the right asses.)
If/when things go wrong, type-twos lose their entire way to relate to people, and the only thing that makes them feel 'worthwhile'. And often, the higher the rise, the higher the fall. I reckon my friend Natalie was right on both counts. The factors are symbiotic, in fact.
I'd also say that most performers/artists etc are generally more emotional and in touch with their feelings than 'Average Joe'. And I guess when you feel more, the things in life that hurt, hurt more. That's a fairly rudimentary assessment perhaps, but there's something in it. And sadly, often when people are thought of as being 'dramatic', the content of what they say - even the reason and genuine pain behind it - can be entirely dismissed.
I hope somebody steps in to help Sinead O'Connor, I really do.